Noblin appeals city council's decision on crematory

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Two months after the Belen City Council voted down a special-use zone change that would have allowed for a crematorium in the Hub City, the funeral home owner has filed an appeal in district court.

Robert Noblin, owner of Noblin Funeral Services in Belen, filed a notice of appeal, claiming the city council's decision to deny a zone change was not "supported by substantial evidence," according to the court document. The appeal, filed by his attorney, Amelia Nelson, says the city acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" and "outside the scope of its authority and not in accordance to law."

In February, the city council denied Noblin, for the second time in less than a year, a zone change on a 3 to 1 vote to build the crematorium on his property at 418 W. Reinken Ave. The council made its decision after hearing from residents who were both for and against the zone change.

The proposed crematorium, a natural-gas-fired-furnace, was to be housed in a garage containing three parking bays, one for the unit and the other two for vehicles. The unit would have contained a computer system that monitors the temperature and controls the air and gas flows.

Some residents argued that a crematorium would negatively affect the neighborhood and Anna Becker Park, saying they were concerned that property values would decline.

Councilor David Carter voted against the zone change, saying Noblin didn't meet his burden of proof. Although Carter did say that a crematorium meets the state's EPA standards, "I'm also concerned about the ick factor because the ick factor effects property values. I have not seen this addressed."

The sole no vote came from Jerah Cordova, who was elected mayor in March. He said the council shouldn't have considered the "ick factor" because it's subjective. He also questioned the fact that no one had produced any "real data" proving that property values in the area would decline if a crematorium was to be built.

Cordova was also the sole no vote in March when the council approved the findings of fact and conclusion of law regarding the zone change.

Earlier this week, Cordova said the city will defend Noblin's appeal, although he still believes that the city council should have approved the zone change.

"The city is going to defend its official position in court and we certainly look forward to having the issue looked at by a court," Cordova said. "I think the public and the council are fully aware of what my personal position has been on the issue and how I voted on it previously.

"But the city has to defend the official position, and that's how the council voted," he added. "My personal position has not changed."

Noblin said he believes the previous city council made their decision not based on fact, but for their own personal reasons.

"Jerah Cordova aside, the rest of the previous council chose to ignore evidence and facts presented and instead make a decision on their personal feelings and opinions. When the factual evidence was presented, they consciously found new excuses," Noblin said. "After discussing the same points with them for more than 20 hours over several different meetings it became evident that an appeal was the best course of action. We will continue to keep the families placing their trust in us and those choosing cremation first as we pursue this issue."

Noblin claims that the city's conduct is "a matter of significant public interest of public importance and involves … a constitutional question. This is a matter and occurrence that is likely to recur and required a need for uniformity."

According to the city's findings of fact, evidence was presented that the emissions could contain mercury, even though the manufacturer's representative testified that a study in California did not detect mercury emissions.

"The governing body finds that the emissions may contain mercury and other toxic substances," the city document reads.

It also says that some residents testified that the crematorium would "stigmatize their properties, resulting in lower property values," while other residents testified that it would not be a stigma and the addition of a crematorium would be an economic benefit to the city."

The city's findings of fact and conclusion of law also states:

• Evidence was presented showing the crematorium was incompatible with the surrounding residential properties and the city park;

• The crematorium would adversely impact the integrity and character of the zone and the value of property;

• Noblin failed to carry his burden of providing objective, quantitative evidence that the crematorium would not affect the historical significance of the surrounding area;

• Noblin failed to provide evidence that property values in the surrounding area would not decrease;

• Evidence was presented that the crematorium would become detrimental to the public interest, health, safety, convenience or general welfare; and

• Noblin did not show that satisfactory provisions have been made to address all of the conditions.

A judge has not yet been assigned to the case and a hearing has not been scheduled.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.